Emulsion polymerization of styrene was conducted using a biosurfactant (i.e., sodium surfactin, hereinafter called just “surfactin”) having very low critical micelle concentration (CMC, 2.9 × 10–3mmol/L) and biodegradability characteristics. The nucleation mechanism was investigated by comparing with a conventional surfactant (i.e., sodium dodecyl sulfate) system. Unlike the emulsion polymerization systems using conventional surfactants, nucleation mechanisms changed above CMC in the presence of a biosurfactant. At low concentrations of surfactin (above CMC), the polystyrene (PS) particles are likely generated via a soap-free emulsion polymerization mechanism. In contrast, at high surfactin concentrations, the PS particles would be synthesized by following a micellar nucleation mechanism. However, the slope (0.23) of the log Np versus log Csplot (Np: number of particles; Cs: concentration of surfactin) did not obey the Smith–Ewart theory (0.6), this probably being produced by the high adsorbability of surfactin.

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Langmuir201733 (23), pp 5814–5818